Pope Benedict XVI said on Saturday that he admires the courage of Syria’s youth and is saddened by what they and their families are suffering, as violence rages in their country.
“I want to tell you how much I admire your courage,” the 85-year-old pontiff said, adding that he was “sad because of your suffering and your bereavement.”
The pope, on a visit to neighboring Lebanon, spoke during an open-air encounter with what organizers said was more than 15,000 young people at the Maronite Christian patriarchate in Bkerke, a mountain village outside Beirut.
The meeting was open to youth from all faiths and none, and the pope also had warm words for those Muslims who were there.
The tired-looking pontiff arrived at the venue seated in the pope mobile in a joyous atmosphere of music, song and dance.
Among many chants heard was “Benedict XVI loves you all!”
Many of them were wearing caps bearing the pope’s signature message during the trip: “My peace I give to you.”
“Together with the young Christians, you are the future of this fine country and of the Middle East in general,” he told them. “Seek to build it up together! And when you are older, continue to live in unity and harmony with Christians.”
He said the “beauty of Lebanon is found in this fine symbiosis. It is vital that the Middle East in general, looking at you, should understand that Muslims and Christians, Islam and Christianity, can live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person, so as to build together a free and humane society.”
To the Christian youth, Benedict addressed a special plea, encouraging them not to despair of their situation and emigrate.
“In a constantly changing world you are faced with many serious challenges, but not even unemployment and uncertainty should lead you to taste the bitter sweetness of emigration, which involves an uprooting and a separation for the sake of an uncertain future.”
“You are meant to be protagonists of your country’s future and to take your place in society and in the Church.”
Christian Ghawi, aged 20, anticipated that plea, and said before the pope spoke that “with the power of God and the Holy Spirit, we will stay in Lebanon whatever happens. We need to stay in our homeland, the land of the saints.”
Saying the Church needs their youthful enthusiasm and creativity, the pope advised them to “seek beauty and strive for goodness,” and not to “take refuge in parallel worlds like narcotics or the bleak world of pornography.”
And while saying social networks can be “interesting,” they can “quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual.”
In that vein, he advised them to “look for relations of genuine, uplifting friendship” and to find ways of giving meaning and depth to their lives, while fighting against “superficiality and mindless consumption.”
He called upon them to become witnesses to others of the love of Christ.
Developing what has become a central theme of his visit, he said that in Christ “all men and women are our brothers and sisters.”
“Christ asks you, then, to do as he did: to be completely open to others, even if they belong to a different cultural, religious or national group. Making space for them, respecting them, being good to them, making them ever more rich in humanity and firm in the peace of the Lord.”